Plastic does not simply flow into the sea: River transport dynamics affected by tides and floating plants

R.A. Lotcheris*, L.J. Schreyers, T.K.L. Bui, K.V.L. Thi, H.Q. Nguyen, B. Vermeulen, T.H.M. van Emmerik

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Plastic pollution is ubiquitous in aquatic environments worldwide. Rivers connect terrestrial and marine ecosystems, playing a key role in the transport of land-based plastic waste towards the sea. Emerging research suggests that in estuaries and tidal rivers, tidal dynamics play a significant role in plastic transport and retention dynamics. To date, observations in these systems have been limited, and plastic transport dynamics during single tidal cycles remain poorly understood. Here, we investigated plastic transport, trapping, and re-mobilization of macroplastics (> 0.5 cm) in the Saigon River, focusing on short-term dynamics of individual tidal cycles. We used GPS trackers, released at different stages of the tidal cycle (ebb, flood, neap, spring). Plastic items demonstrated dynamic and intermittent transport behavior. Items spent almost half of the time (49%) temporarily stopped, mainly due to their entrapment in vegetation, infrastructure, or deposition on riverbanks. Items were almost always re-mobilized within 10 h (85%), leading to successive phases of stopping and transport. Tidal dynamics also resulted in bidirectional transport of plastic items, with median daily total transport distance within the 40 km study reach (8.9 km day−1) over four times larger than the median daily net distance (2.0 km day−1). The median retention time of plastic items within the reach was 21 days (mean = 202 days). In total, 81% of the retrieved items were trapped within water hyacinths, emphasizing the important role of floating vegetation on river plastic transport dynamics. With this paper, we aim to provide data-driven insights into macroplastic transport and retention dynamics in a tropical tidal river. These are crucial in the design of effective intervention and monitoring strategies, and estimating net plastic emission from rivers into the sea.

Original languageEnglish
Article number123524
JournalEnvironmental Pollution
Publication statusPublished - 15 Mar 2024


  • Estuary
  • Hydrology
  • Macroplastic
  • Marine debris
  • Plastic pollution
  • Pollution transport
  • Saigon
  • Stopping and re-mobilization
  • Vietnam
  • Water hyacinths
  • Water quality


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